If you could ask a beauty salesperson one question and get an honest answer, what would you ask?

If you could ask a beauty salesperson one question and get an honest answer, what would you ask? Share!

I might ask how much pressure there is to meet sales goals, and if they’re realistic, or else I would ask them why they’re working where they are. For me, I’d rather work with a salesperson who is genuinely into beauty or is at least enthusiastic about doing an excellent job (even if they’re not really into beauty) so that they’re still an expert.

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Bonnie Avatar

At Dior it was skincare, followed by foundation and then mascara. Their lipsticks and eyeshadows (surprisingly on the eyeshadows, with how bad they can be) almost never got returned. I think I never had a return of a Dior Lip Glow color reviver balm. Those sold like hot cakes. Now theres a bunch of dupes on the market but Lip Glow was the OG. 😉

Bonnie Avatar

I forgot to add, that I also never had a return of the Dior Universal Brow Styler. Those also were extremely easy to sell, because they are truly universally flattering and genuinely awesome, just like the Lip Glow. Two of my favorite Dior products. And the Browstyler was also ahead of the game, inspiring lots of dupes in recent years.

Brittany Avatar

How much of the range have you actually tried? Have there been any standout products that you have tried from the range? What items would you spend your own money on from the range? What is the weirdest angle you’ve used to sell a product? For example if the item was limited edition, special packaging, the recent beauty trend, or even if the sales associate picked up on the customer’s insecurities and offered items to help with the customers’ “problem area.” Is there an item you received for free that you wouldn’t have purchased for yourself but ended up loving from the range?

After having worked retail, I don’t think I would be able to ask the salesperson what items were were duds for them or if any items have been consistently poorly behaving. When it comes to sales goals, from personal experience, meeting those goals is an active effort for each sales associate who works that day. However, certain beauty sales associates, depending on where they work, are paid off of commission. During my time with retail, I began to actively feel bad about convincing people to buys items incase I convinced them to spend money they didn’t actually have.

Nancy T Avatar

I would perhaps ask them: “Which products do you truly enjoy using on yourself personally? What is it that you love about it?” And I would definitely ask this if, say, they have a seemingly flawless complexion, because I sure don’t!

Donna Avatar

I am very friendly with a few Sales Assistants and do trust their option. But one I do know does not actually wear the company’s foundation, she prefers another brand. I would love to know how many others wear other brands as they like them better than their own.

Vijaya Avatar

In my experience, virtually all SAs wear some products outside their line. Some are more loyal to their own brand than others (especially if the brand is one they get free product from or a steep associate discount with), but at the department store I was at, if a customer asked, you were encouraged to direct them to a product at your counter regardless of what you were actually wearing–you didn’t have to lie outright, but instead of answering the question directly, a lot of SAs would say “it’s a lot like (X foundation in the range).” It also varied with how easily salesgoals were met–MAC salespeople would invariably meet/exceed their goals, but some other lines required a little more salesmanship.

Sephora was different, I felt like the SAs were more honest about what they were actually wearing because it wasn’t about pushing a particular brand.

BTW, Christine, I’m really enjoying this thread. 🙂

Bonnie Avatar

This IS a really good thread! At Dior/Macys, we were supposed to wear nothing but Dior, and if it wasn’t Dior, it had to look exactly like a product we sold because we *HAD* to direct the customer to Dior’s product. It was extremely irritating because I love to wear different looks every day when I wear makeup and hated having to conform to their limited and conservative color choices and offerings.

Lulle Avatar

I would probably ask what products in the range they sell are good quality and which ones they don’t think are worth it.
It must be very difficult for MUAs to sell products they know don’t perform well, I actually recently had a conversation at Ulta with the Benefit artist about that. She confessed that she hated the original They’re Real liner because it was just plain bad, and she was really happy that they reformulated it when launching the colorful versions. She felt terrible pushing it to customers knowing they would probably not be able to get a decent look with it.

Haji Avatar

she was probably still fibbing a little bit! The blue liner is a chunky mess and not just the one I got as gratis, ALL of the ones we’ve opened in store. I treat it as my civic duty to stop people from buying it. I encourage them to get purple because that formula is better or just let them know it will be work to apply it.

Sunny Avatar

Ha, I’d like to know how the products really cost for them to make! I know there is quite some pressure and they have a quota to meet each month if not each day (back home in Taiwan. here in Belgium they are already so much more relaxed. They don’t circle you like sharks), but it also depends on which retailer you work for!

Natalia Avatar

Just one? Then I wish I could ask smth like “Do you honestly think this lipstick suits my skin tone?” Cause whenever I ask them “What do you think?” about a lipstick I tried on, I always get: “It looks good on you!” 🙂 Even my MAC girls do that sometimes.

Mariella Avatar

That’s probably because with the weird in-store lighting, they don’t have any better sense than you do about whether or not a colour looks good! I usually try them on, go outside into natural light and take a look at myself that way.

Haji Avatar

Also we tend to be more critical of ourselves. At the counter I only see you briefly and I honestly think a ton of lipsticks that people would never wear look sososososooooo good on them. That is hard since it’s personal preference but I’m always upfront if it’s a tragedy!

Zoe Avatar

Being someone who works in a French pharmacy in cosmetics now I feel like some questions might not help you. For example I’m in my in my late teens and haven’t tried many of our anti aging products personally because they’re simply too powerful for my skin. I also haven’t used any of the products that treat rosacea because I simply don’t have it. That being said that doesn’t mean I don’t know how the products preform from second hand experience, my coworkers and clients all give me feedback. As far as color matching goes I’m always honest about my opinion, but that’s just me. I’m honest in general, I find it difficult to lie and be convincing about a product I don’t believe in.

Given the chance I would be more inclined to ask for an honest opinion than about the person’s personal sales techniques.

Haji Avatar

At Ulta’s the return policy is so lenient that we try really hard to avoid that. Unless the sales person seems like they’re in a rush or really pushing one specific item (which sadly I’ve seen both of these lazy behaviors) then they truly want to find you the right one. We don’t want it coming back used and going in the trash bin. The amount of stuff we have to throw away is staggering!

Kiss & Make-up Avatar

Thanks for answering my question! 😀 I guess that it’s true that when you have a very lenient return policy you can’t just push products onto people just for the sake of getting good sales figures. In Europe it’s different. You cannot return beauty products here. And there have definitely been times where I felt like I’d been ‘set up’.

Bonnie Avatar

Honestly, yes. Did I feel good about it, or even comfortable doing it? Not at all. But I could only sell Dior products at a Dior counter (well, at least that was all that counted toward my Dior monthly goal), and if I only sold products I personally LIKED, I never would have made sales goals. But all that mattered was that we convinced others to like our products, and inspire them to buy and keep them. We had to “create a need” for them. I was the MOST honest and forthright beauty adviser at my counter, and thus was always teetering on the brink of barely making or not making sales goals. It was pretty rough.

Bonnie Avatar

Thank you 🙂
I really longed to just be super up front and honest about what was great, what was so-so and what sucked. And sometimes, depending on how well I knew the customer, I was! Something weird I found out was that while a certain type of customer with appreciate that honesty, there are a lot of customers who really just want to be confidently told what they need to buy and anything else just confused them and dissuaded them from buying anything at all! I think I learned more about people than I did about makeup during my 2 year stint there…

Micha Avatar

I don’t expect any help from them.
If I really has to ask them a question, It’ll be : what you have bought in your own shop and really liked ?

The truth is that their job is to sell, to reach sales goals.
It’s their job to do so. It’s sad and reflect the horrible society we are living in.
We believe to need to always produce more, sell more, consume more.
We are in a selfish society always looking for efficiency.

Marketing is a huge lie, trying to sell you sparkles/dreams.
In cities, men and women are blinded by marketing, telling you to buy the latest trend, the next it product to make you look more beautiful, etc.
Why can’t we feel good without makeup ? Makeup is powerful as a tool, yes.
But makeup changes the urban girls mind as if we NEED to look flawless to succeed, as if our real skin look ugly and reflect illness, and this is not good for women, and our self image.

I won’t count on SA’s opinion on a product, they are highly influenced by the marketing lies.

I buy things based on my own researches about the formula, the feeling, and its sent.
For example, I really don’t like the sent of the new Shiseido wet force sun screen, I’ve seen no reviews mentioning the sent, all reviews are raving about it. 😉 But I’m not buying it, can’t stand the sent.
It’s certain that we pay too much for the marketing and publicities than the product itself.

Marketing and media are very dangerous, and are fooling most of people like never.
People should really open their eyes and stop believing everything they see on TV and Internet.

Lauren Avatar

Hi there, Nordstrom Cosmetics employee and counter manager here! I’d love to answer any questions that y’all might have. So a little background, I’ve worked at Ulta, Sephora, Dillard’s, Lush and most recently Nordstrom! Nordstrom is definitely the best because of the customers. On the other hand, it is technically also the most difficult because of the expectations that they hold us to. I originally got into this business because of my absolute obsession with beauty. I know about every launch from every brand before the actual employees assigned to that line. Thanks for that, Christine!

I would reccommend trying to find someone who isn’t going to just push their personal line on you. While I think everyone is capable of finding great things at Hourglass, we just don’t have certain things. Wanna find a good red eyeshadow? Have a discontinued lipstick and want to find an awesome match? Let’s go on an adventure around the department.

I can honestly say that not everyone in the cosmetic departments you visit actually LOVE makeup, as sad as that is. And unfortunately, not everyone is as skilled a makeup artist as you might think in these situations. My motto is always find someone you connect with and stick with them. My loyal customers know that I’m not going to take them straight to La Mer for all their needs for the commission.

Katherine T. Avatar

Hey Lauren, what happens to products that are used but are returned? Does it get sanitized and become a tester? Or do you have to destroy them? Also does the store lose money on returns, or do they get reimbursed by the manufacturer?

Lauren Avatar

Hey Katherine! At Nordstrom, all returned product gets carefully examined by the associates of that counter. If they are clearly unused, it gets put back on the shelf to sell. If we are not 100% sure or its obviously used, they all get damaged out and put in the back stock room to be returned to the vendors. I will usually swap gently used products out, like primer, with my empty tester or empty them out into sample jars to be given out to customers. Nordstrom and the counter do lose money when product is returned, so I always am willing to sample a product if I can to ensure the customer likes it. It feels awful to come into work and see that you’re in the negatives. Working on commission sometimes feels like the customers are paying you with their wallets. I do miss working at sephora and just getting to play with everything, but you don’t really get paid well there. I recently read an article on Jezebel’s new Milihelen blog about “spite buying” where a customer bought $200 worth of Bobbi Brown product from a sale associate that she deemed unfriendly just so she could return it the next day. That’s a pretty awful way of going about things. That’s why my policy is to just make everyone happy, even if it means them leaving with three samples after a full makeover.

Katherine T. Avatar

Thanks for the answer Lauren! I rarely return stuff, because I usually do a lot of research before buying, but sometimes things don’t work out, and if it’s expensive, I want my money back, usually so I can buy more makeup LOL But I kind of feel guilty returning even though I know I shouldn’t. On the other hand, if I know I can’t return anything, I would definitely buy a lot less makeup, so I think in long run, the retailers do win by having a good return policy. And yes, I like to get little samples to test out first, especially when it comes to foundations. Thanks again for the info !

Staci Avatar

Why on earth do you think I’m pink? I’m not pink.

But seriously I’ve found with my local counters that I’m more knowledgeable than the ladies working. I know about upcoming releases before them. I’m better able to color match myself than them. I know their products better than them.

Toni Avatar

Agree! I always felt the same. Reason could also be that I’m probably a lot older than some of the sales consultants so have had more experience in dealing with my issues.

Mariella Avatar

“What happens to all the samples that are meant for the customer?” I know companies often get a LOT of samples of new or even existing products but I’ve also heard that many of the sales people take these home or give many to family members. I know there have been many times when I’ve asked if there is a sample of “XYZ” new product only to be told “No” and I wonder how often it’s because these samples aren’t being distributed as they should be. I’m also curious as to what happens to counter samples of products that are Limited Edition once the product is sold out. Are they destroyed (hope not) or are salespeople allowed to take them home?

J Avatar

Sephora employee here. I think people WAAAY over estimate the number of samples they think we have on hand in the store. We have people come in just asking for free things and I’m like, really? I can make you a sample of something, but we don’t just have drawers of free lipsticks, eyeliners, and mascaras.

And our testers get destroyed. We do not take them home.

andrea Avatar

the brand I work for recycles limited edition stuff that is sold out, same as returns and exchanges. its not sanitary to take home used product, cause you never know who touched it and what they did before 🙂

Vijaya Avatar

J’s right. I’m pretty well traveled in retail, and while samples can be made from testers, we don’t have all that many–some are given away at product trainings, but you don’t get loads of them to take home and give away. Testers are destroyed/recycled.

Lauren Avatar

The brand I work for gets NO samples unless they are gift with purchase. I’d love to make a primer, foundation, etc. sample for anyone who wants to try a product, but I don’t have any lying around. We also get so many questions like, “Can I get a sample of this blush/eyeshadow/lipstick?” and the answer is always no. I’m not going to ruin a tester like that buy scratching off product for someone who doesn’t want to just sit down and try it on in store. It just makes the testers look dirty and old.

Erin Avatar

Sadly to say the counters are not given many samples. What we do have is leftover from previous promotions but as a whole I’ve noticed the cosmetic companies do not give their staff a lot of extra products to just give out. Also, some companies do not want their employees to give samples at their own discretion…that policy isn’t always followed but if the company were to find out they would not be pleased. My hunch is that it’s all about branding and product value. If I give you a freebie I’m diminishing the brand in a way and also not playing on the same level as other counters who don’t give out an abundance of samples. That’s my theory anyways.

Bonnie Avatar

What the others have said is true. We didnt get that many because Dior is a prestige brand and not a gifting/sample brand. BUT, we did have leftovers from events where there was a “souvenir” (read: gift but with fancy terminology) with purchase and I gave them out to customers who were making a large purchase later on. The problem with gifting and sampling is that the more you do it, the more the customer expects it to always be part of the equation, no matter how little they buy. Then there’s no extras to give the loyal customers who routinely make purchases to incentivise (is that not a word?) their repeat business. I often wished we had loads of samples to give whoever asked just because I was uncomfortable telling people “no”. Thus, I made samples from testers for them quite often, which actually got me into trouble.

Erin Avatar

I’m writing under a pseudonym in case this gets seen and I get in trouble (I probably won’t but you never know)
The store I work for is hourly instead of commission and I think that makes a big difference because you don’t have as much pressure to meet a personal goal and thus aren’t as pressured to be on clients or give dishonest feedback, partially because we get bonused on a client survey and it wouldn’t be in our favor for our clientele to go back and leave negative feedback.
That said, the daily goals set for the location I work at are unrealistic given the traffic patterns that we’re getting and it’s disappointing that they’re not being adjusted accordingly.
I love beauty – talking about it, blogging about it, etc. I follow your blog religiously and that actually helps me out a lot because, often times, I know about product launches/launch dates well before they’re announced in our store newsletter/morning meetings so that’s always really helpful.
In terms of people here with the feedback that salespeople are dishonest… I guess it’s helpful that I work in a store where there’s a large variety of brands so if someone asks me what I think of a product I don’t like I can explain to them objectively why I don’t like the particular item and what I’d suggest instead. If someone is open I will suggest products I personally like/ think will work best depending on their preferences (ex: I may not like a certain foundation because my skin is dry but if it works well on clients with oily-skin and I get consistently positive feedback on that particular product I’d feel confident recommending it).

Kelsey Avatar

I’d love to know what happens to used products that get returned. Do they get tossed, are they used for testers, do the employees get to take them home?

Tammy B Avatar

I work for a major department store in the beauty department. All returned items are accounted for on a weekly basis in the system. They are sent back to the company. Employees would be fired if we ever got caught taking them home.

Caroline Avatar

I’ve worked on counters and now manage a beauty department, my question and its the one I’m always interested to hear the answer is ‘what do you use?’. When I was on counter there were products from my brand that I loved and there were staples that I used that cost a fraction of what I was selling and worked better as well as certain products from the competition.

Pearl Avatar

I always wonder what is going through their head when they approach or are approached by customers. Aside from product questions about “what really works, what doesn’t”, I’d want to know their pet peeves about the company they work for are, or what their pet peeves are about “that customer”. It can’t be easy dealing with the public. And “why do you work here?” Is it because you love beauty products, you like people, or the discount? None of that is my business, but I am always curious.

jeffery Avatar

I would love to ask. Are you giving me the best advice on products or are you having to meet targets on this particular brand that you are pushing me to buy?

anne Avatar

not to offend the SA, nor to put she or he on the defensive, but i would really like to know what their training has been. i’ve been told real nonsense by SAs (i’m an RN and have some knowledge both from my professional training and experience and also from being a make up junkie), and i wonder if SAs know that some product claims are chemically/physiologically impossible. that said, i know most SAs are not make up artists, and i really wish they would not present themselves that way. a true make up artist can really help you select appropriate products. no one expects an 18 year-old SA to be an expert. that’s so unrealistic!

Haji Avatar

I agree to so much with this!! My company (clinique) does a great job of giving us the tools to learn as much as we want to about not only our products but the ingredients in them. I already had a very strong interest in skincare ingredients and their effectiveness and they support that passion but… having said that I find many of my peers just learn the basics. They may love the field but are limited on time outside work to research theses things.

Phrasing of what a product does is so important. Tightening pores =/= Making pores smaller and there in lies the issue with “claims”. People use different verbage, the SA might mean it “temporarily tightens pores” but they actually say “shrinks your pores”.

I suggest picking a store and milling around the area to observe who the SAs ask for help from. Is it always the same person who gets asked? That’s your rockstar product junkie who knows their stuff. Especially if they can juggle a consultation and make suggestions to other staff members/customers.

Bonnie Avatar

Not a lot of SAs I worked with (Called BAs or beauty advisers at Macys & Dior) actually knew what was in any of the products except for the “buzzwords” we were taught to learn at product knowledge trainings. I was clueless for the first year I worked there, but by the second I had done some research and was actually shocked by all the unhealthy chemicals and alcohols and whatnot in all the products that tout themselves as amazing, breakthrough, state-of-the-art, youth-enhancing formulas. But that is true of almost all brands really, not just Dior of course. There are very few “clean” and truly organic brands on the market, as the cosmetics and skin care industry has no government oversight and they do not regulate ingredients or claims made by brands about their products! Shocking but true. I had a VERY hard time selling Dior once I learned this, especially their skin care. Almost all the claims are hogwash. For most brands. It’s all marketing jargon. I still use mainstream makeup, but now use exclusively organic skin care from brands not sold at department stores. Remember it has to be USDA certified organic, or the organic and “all-natural” claims mean less than nothing!

Brooke Avatar

I’d want to know the best time to buy, since foundations and makeup “go bad” how often are the shelves restocked and when the fresh batches come in. I’ve seen some foundations at target or Walmart and they’re completely separated and look disgustingly old..

michelle maffia Avatar

i would buy at a “busy” store, one with a lot of volume. Busy stores go thru more product so their stock is constantly getting replenished

Haji Avatar

Best time for help: Weekdays, it depends on the area (tues-thursday are usually good.) An hour or so after opening but before lunch and then after lunch but before work is out.

Makeup goes bad because as you use it you introduce oxygen/bacteria/sunlight and that breaks it down. If it is sealed then it is usually good until the printed expiration date(most commonly seen in products with suncreen and acne medications). There is a picture of a jar with a bit of text in it on most products, this will say 2mo. 3mo. 6mo. 12mo. 24mo. etc… That means this is stable for that many months after opening the first time.

If a product doesn’t have an expiration date the company will still assign a batch number for quality control. We recently had to pull a batch of body wash due to a lack of fragrance that is supposed to have! (the machine that adds it in the factory messed up!) If a company if worried about a batch of products going bad they contact the corporate offices and that company tells it’s stores to remove it from shelves.

Restock: This varies wildly by company and location. I restock once a week and do regular rotation of product to make sure nothing is going bad or looking weird. Having said that, some products naturally separate in stores, especially testers at department stores, due the heat from the lights all around them. The strong lights we have in stores actually discolor all the plastic bottles and shelves in my store! I would be wary of buying a drugstore product that is sealed if it is discolored or separated.

Bonnie Avatar

We had a few customers come in and demand the “freshest” foundations and mascaras we had stocked, and honestly it drove us crazy and we always just randomly pulled one or two out and claimed it was freshly delivered! That sounds horrible, but the way our drawers were stocked we honestly had literally NO IDEA which products were new and which had been there for months, and if we told the customer that, we would lose a potential sale. Real talk!

Lilac Avatar

Do you feel supported by the brand you sell / the store you work at? Do you feel that the brand has your back? Do you get all the training that you need?

Those questions are in regard to sales people having been given different information than is available online, or have not been informed about the next launches early enough, or are otherwise out of information. I believe it could be frustrating dealing with the public that knows more than you do or is upset that your location does not have enough items for sale because the brand shipped only such limited quantities, and similar situations.

I think that brands could actively deflect a lot of problems that customers are having by informing their employees the best possible way; which is sometimes neglected.

Bonnie Avatar

Since most makeup brands I have worked for and around hired SAs pretty much solely based on their salesmanship abilities and not makeup expertise and knowledge, that AND when you’re hired they throw you right in to work and to learn as you go. Trainings generally only happen twice a year, and if you just missed it when you were hired, like I did, it could be up to 6 months working at the counter and interacting with the public while representing your brand and doing makeovers, with literally no training in regards to the brands products and makeup techniques. Oh sure they train you on how to operate their registers and how to sell, but not on what matters most to the customer: the products!!!

Genevieve Avatar

I’d ask them about the products they have used from the brand and how it has worked /not worked for them. Not every product in a makeup brand is equally good and some products are targeted for different age groups. Some of the questions above probably would not be answered honestly by the MUA because, let’s face it, their job would be on the line.

Toni Avatar

Why are the samples like getting blood out of stone? Foundations especially! Surely it’s important to try to rule out any skin reactions.

michelle maffia Avatar

i worked for a company who advertised samples and then did not have enough to satisfy demand. then i have to “be the bad guy” and play Sophie’s Choice to see who is worthy!!

Haji Avatar

Many companies do not give samples for that exact reason. A sample has no ingredients list or identifying markers. If you have a severe reaction, welts, hives, rash, you can take the box to a doctors office and they can see what’s in it! I once met a woman who had rosacea and developed hives and little pimples due to the irritating nature of a retinol cream someone sampled for her. I prefer sampling also and am glad my company is so lenient on samples now but we always let people know the ingredients are on the website.

badgerpaws Avatar

No, seriously, my skin is super sensitive and dehydrated. Give me product recommendations. -_-;

I always feel like they push products on me that aren’t hydrating enough, or aren’t for sensitive skin.

michelle maffia Avatar

this question really struck a cord with me because I worked in dept store cosmetics for 30 yrs and now as a free-lance make-up artist. After reading the comments I need to remind some comment posters that the individuals behind the counter are people too! They go to your grocery store, take their kids to school, and have lives outside cosmetics. Alot of people see them as purposely intimidating, and for the most part it is not true. Just like any job(yes, this is their job, they have not chosen cosmetics as there charity of choice), there are nice and not so nice people. As someone behind the counter i can also tell you many people come to the counter trying to pick a fight. Asking someone, “Does THIS really work?” , well will it work for you?, is it for your skintype, is this your issue? And remember this is their JOB , yes they are there is sell you something(that’s what pays to keeps the lights on in the store), but ask honest questions, keep an open mind and for the most part that person will be helpful. If he or she isn’t , well press on and try someone new there are plenty of lines with plenty of advisors.

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